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A Day To Honor The Indigenous Children Who Died At Boarding Schools

Indigenous children and white residential school staff standing in front of the Ouray School on Ute Indian Reservation.
Utah State Historical Society
Indigenous children and white residential school staff standing in front of the Ouray School on Ute Indian Reservation.
Updated: September 30, 2021 at 11:46 AM MDT
This story was updated to include today's announcement from the Department of the Interior that it would soon begin formal consultations with tribes as the next step of the Federal Boarding School Initiative.

News Brief 

UPDATED: Today, the Department of the Interior said it would begin the next step of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative by holding formal consultations with tribes. In a press release, the Department said, "agency staff are currently compiling decades of files and records to facilitate a proper review to organize documents, identify available and missing information, and ensure that records systems are standardized."

Thursday marks Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – a day meant to acknowledge the enduring impacts that residential schools had on Indigenous people.

Both Canada and the U.S. had government programs that took Indigenous children from their homes, and forced them into boarding schools. They suffered neglect and abuse. Thousands died.

This is the first time Canada has set aside a day to acknowledge the atrocities. The U.S. government has yet to make a formal recognition.

In June, however, U.S. Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland – the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary – announced an investigation in remarks made to the National Congress of American Indians Mid Year Conference.

"To address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools, and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be," she said.

In a secretarial memo, Haaland described a plan for the Indian Boarding School Initiative, and directed the Interior Department, in consultation with tribes, to identify the location of known and possible burial sites located at or near school facilities, and the identities and tribal affiliations of those interred children.

The process is expected to be long, but the results will be unprecedented – there is no definitive accounting of the number of children who attended Indian boarding schools in the U.S.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition estimates that, by 1926, nearly 83% of Indian school-age children in the U.S. were forced into residential schools. That coalition calls for September 30 to be a National Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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